Palmer: "Fairness is Issue"

Mayor John Robert Smith says race should not be a factor in the selection of a new fire chief. The topic surfaced in his bi-weekly news conference. But Ward 4 city councilman Jesse Palmer says the issue is about race and more.

Smith defended his decision to appoint Tim Miller as the city's new fire chief. Palmer, who is black, criticized the decision on Tuesday.

"We have a majority in this community," said Palmer. "There's seven department heads, and I for one, think we deserve more than one person in the decision-making process."

Of the seven department heads, Police Chief Benny Dubose is the only black. Given his qualifications, Palmer says Battalion Chief Anthony Clayton, who applied to the fire chief's position, should have been named to the job.

"When you boil it down, the better qualified candidate was not selected," Palmer said.

Aside from race, Palmer says he's basing his conclusion on Clayton's 21 years with the department and four-year college degree, something which he says Miller does not have. However, while Clayton has been a battalion chief for one year, records show that Miller has been a battalion chief for seven.

With this in mind, Mayor Smith says the decision was based on the experience, leadership skills and interviews of the five candidates who applied.

"And I'm always going to appoint the person, I believe, that is clearly the strongest, most qualified individual, regardless of race," said Smith.
"And to do anything else would be a disservice to all of the candidates in what we have learned over 30 to 40 years. That simply must not make a difference."

In response to the Mayor's comments, Palmer issued a statement to Newscenter 11: "'It's not necessarily a racial thing. It's a fairness thing. This city is diverse and our leadership must reflect it," wrote Palmer.